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Humility (aka Knowing One's Place)

November 24, 2019

Jesus tells Satan in rebuke, “It is written,‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). He says this in full knowledge that he is himself God’s Word, the heavenly Bread come down to earth. It is precisely this self-knowledge, knowledge that can only come from knowing the Father perfectly, that enables Jesus to do the Father’s works.


Socrates taught the vital importance of self-knowledge as an indispensable foundation of a fully human life. For him, it involved a sincere renunciation of pride and arrogance, and the admission of human weakness. Legitimate self-knowledge was, for Socrates, always rooted in recognition that as finite beings we can never begin on our own accord to grasp true knowledge and wisdom.
 

The Christian virtue that blooms from this recognition and affirmation of the truth in all things, especially our limits, is humility. Perhaps the best teaching on the merits of humility is given by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke: “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). Jesus own humility was best evidenced by his unyielding devotion to the Father. As Saint John writes in his gospel, Jesus prays to his Father:


"Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you; for I have given them the words which you gave me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me." (John 17:7-8)


The Lord claims no credit for himself, for his love for the Father from whom he comes shatters the devilish temptation of pride.


Arrogance caves us in upon ourselves. Pride, when selfishly fed without constraint, floods the human mind and heart with darkness. This darkness obscures a person’s whole world, and before too long he or she will begin to worship something other than God. This idol, be it success or pleasure or self, becomes the center of all reality for the person. It becomes the fixed point to which all other considerations become relative. Eventually the person realizes that this thing in which he or she has invested the greatest attention and devotion has not set him or her free at all. It has become a prison, for as George MacDonald so aptly recognized, “a man is in bondage to what ever he cannot part with that is less than himself” (The Way, 1885).


This over-trodden path has seen countless sojourners walk upon it, insatiably determined to unseat the Lord from his rightful throne in their hearts. They say, “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high… I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High” (see Isaiah 14:13-14). But to them God replies across the ages, “you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit” (ibid. 14:15). These fail or even refuse to see the truth that both Jesus and Socrates saw so clearly.


To know oneself in the light of truth is to honor God. It is God alone in whom all truth originates and with whom it resides forever. Woe to the one who dares attempt to take truth’s throne for himself! Judgment does not after all fall to mankind, but to the Judge of Judges - the King of Kings.

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